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UN assesses how sanctions affect humanitarian aid to North

Dec 13,2017
The impact that economic sanctions have had on blocking essential aid to the suffering people of North Korea must be assessed, senior United Nations officials said during an annual meeting held by the UN Security Council on Monday in New York.

This was the fourth consecutive Security Council meeting on human rights abuses in North Korea, despite China and Russia’s attempts to block it.

Miroslav Jenca, the UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, noted that some $114 million is required to address the “critical humanitarian needs” in North Korea, urging member states to support “life-saving activities in the country” and emphasizing that funding for relief activities is “essential.”

Jenca added, “While emphasis is placed on the political and security situation, the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is a forgotten crisis on the global humanitarian agenda. The situation is even more critical with the current lack of funding.”

He pointed out that an estimated 18 million people, or 70 percent of the population, are suffering from food insecurity, and 10.5 million people, or 41 percent of the people, are undernourished.

Through a procedural vote, the 15-member council agreed to hear briefings on the human rights situation on North Korea, which passed with 10 votes in favor, three votes against and abstentions by Egypt and Ethiopia. At least nine countries must back a contested agenda item for it to be discussed at the council through a procedural vote.

China, Russia and Bolivia objected to the meeting, saying it was not the right forum to discuss the human rights situation.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein spoke via video from Paris and pointed out that UN agencies and other humanitarian aid groups were “literally a lifeline” for the 13 million vulnerable North Koreans.

He requested that the Security Council “conduct an assessment of the human rights impact of sanctions” and that actions be taken to “minimize their adverse humanitarian consequences.”

The UN rights chief pointed out that “sanctions may be adversely affecting this essential help,” adding that “controls over international banking transfers have caused a slowdown in UN ground operations, affecting the delivery of food rations, health kits and other humanitarian aid.”

He also noted that repatriated defectors, often returned from China, are routinely subjected to torture at detentions centers when they are sent back to North Korea. He said that over the past year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights received 70 reports of defectors who were repatriated by Chinese authorities. He said in July, a family of five reportedly committed “collective suicide” when they were about to be repatriated.

Wu Haitao, the Chinese deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said the Security Council’s mandate is to focus on international peace and security, and that the members need to “avoid mutual provocations” that could “further escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

Wu also called for related countries to consider the “suspension for suspension” initiative proposed with Russia, which calls for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for a halt to U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises, as a first step toward restarting negotiations.

Evgeny Zagaynov, Russian deputy ambassador to the United Nations, also said that the council deals with issues of aggression or force and cannot be a platform for politicizing human rights. He warned that the meeting “must not be a pretext” for further foreign intervention on the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, however, said that there is no separation between peace and human rights.

“Any country that does not take care of its people ends up in conflict,” said Haley, adding that such a country can easily abuse others.

“The international community has a collective responsibility to protect the population of the DPRK if the state does not protect its own citizens,” said Jenca, “and to consider the wider implications of the reported grave human rights situation for the stability of the region.”

Jenca urged better monitoring, more effective use of sanctions, exemptions for humanitarian assistance, more humanitarian aid and paying more attention to security issues.

“Let us use all the tools at our disposal - the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, the Security Council and other international entities - to take action to build a better future for the people of the DPRK,” he added.

Jeffrey Feltman, the UN undersecretary general for political affairs, wrapped up a rare four-day visit to Pyongyang last week, during which he met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and other officials.

During the visit, Feltman told the official there can only be a diplomatic solution to the situation, achieved through sincere dialogue, adding that “time is of the essence.”

Similarly, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday that Feltman acknowledged the negative impact of sanctions on humanitarian aid to North Korea.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]